Sunday, 12 September 2010

God of the aftermath

Pentecost 16 year C Sermon
Jeremiah and Luke

How has your faith fared… over the past week?
What kinds of
questions have you been asking yourself.. …about God…what doubts have been raised for you…
against the backdrop of destructive forces unleashed in creation… the earthquake in Christchurch…floods in Pakistan…fires in Russia and an American
pastor who threatens to burn copies of the Quran
Where do we look… for God in all this?

How do we harmonise Jeremiah’s vision of God’s role in destruction
Jesus image of the Shepherd…
who risks
everything to find the lost sheep.

Is our vision of a wrathful punishing God…
or maybe even a cruelly
indifferent God…
or is our
image of God… like the concerned Shepherd in Jesus story…who goes to any length
to locate the
stray… and bring them back. [pause]

In 1755… an 8 point 7 magnitude earthquake… struck Portugal…killing at least sixty thousand people, and triggering tsunamis that wrecked seaports in Spain and Morocco.[i]  
It’s often called “The Great Lisbon Earthquake” and certainly one of the greatest natural disasters in European history. At that time…Christians looked for God’s role in the disaster…. in several ways

Protestant clergy in
Northern Europe…
argued the
quake occurred because most of the people of Lisbon were Roman Catholic.
And among the Catholics, and especially in Lisbon, the clergy believed the shock was the result of divine anger…
at the presence of Protestants.

heretics were forcibly baptized
with the aim of preventing
more earthquakes.

But there were those who sought another answer. 
The philosopher 
Voltaire was one of them.
And he observed acidly… that while the Portuguese Inquisitors…had burned some fanatics,
earth…had swallowed holy men and heretics alike.

Even as a humanist…Voltaire was appalled by the twisted logic… that innocent victims were being punished for sin…by a just God? He wrote a poem… full of deep pity… for a world where innocent and guilty alike…are pawns of fate or victims of chance. It read:
And can you then impute a sinful deed
To babes who on their mothers' bosoms bleed?
Was then more vice in fallen Lisbon found,
Than Paris, where voluptuous joys abound?
Was less debauchery to London known,
Where opulence luxurious holds the throne?

poem reminds me of Jesus’ observations when the Tower of Siloam fell… 

‘…do you think they were guiltier than everybody else in Jerusalem?’[ii]

I tell you no! Jesus says…One way or another…
at some
time or other…everybody turns away from God and God’s way of justice and peace and compassion and mercy…Get your act together and turn your face back to God…[pause]

At lunch the other day with friends from my old television days… one friend commented when natural disaster strikes …if you believe in God…the buck has to stop with God. God has to take the blame. Because God either designed things badly or designed them cruelly.

My friend seem to be saying… there are only two possible ways… to see God in times of disaster.
One…like many did in the Hebrew Scriptures…
as a god who rains down
destruction as a punishment… or Two…as a clockmaker god… who creates and winds up the universe…and steps back…
to let things take their natural

But in today’s Gospel story… Jesus puts forward… another view of God. Instead of inflicting disaster or standing back indifferently
God is
involved… and active…in the restoration process and its clear Jesus sees his calling… is to act this out
by making
friends with rejects and outcasts.

You see
disaster has already happened in these people’s lives…perhaps it’s ruined their health or got them kicked out of the synagogue…and almost always… disaster has separated these people from their community.

The religious leaders accuse Jesus of wrongdoing… of welcoming and eating with sinners! But Jesus believes God is active in their restoration…and this makes the Pharisees mad.

So of course Jesus tells them a parable:
"Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them,

Doesn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness
and go after the one that’s lost until he finds it?
And when he’s found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.

And when he comes home calls his friends and neighbours together, saying

'Rejoice with me for I found my sheep that was lost.'

Just so, Jesus says, there’ll be more joy in heaven
one sinner who turns back to God…
than over ninety-
nine righteous persons who need no repentance. [pause]

It seems to me …that as the one who reveals God to us in time and space… Jesus tells us to look for evidence of Gods activity
not in the
earthquake or the wind or the fire
but in the still small
that calls our
name when we are lost

And just as Jesus meets and eats with people after their disaster has struck…he invites his friends…invites us… to do the same... calls us to get active in the search…
as the good
shepherd does…to get involved in the restoration…
to provide healing and hospitality…work for justice and peace…extend compassion and show mercy …
when and where and to whom…disaster has struck

yes people may be lost in natural catastrophe like earthquakes and floods…but they may be lost because of the greed and cruelty or intolerance of others…or yes
maybe it’s their own
fault…or even their own choice

Maybe it was a bad choice for God to reveal himself through a human life …in a fragile human body…
inevitably succumb… to pain and death. [pause]

But isn’t the very incarnation of God in Jesus into the dimension of earthquake and wind and fire…
war and poverty and human

this… the ultimate involvement in restoration
Isn’t Jesus…the very message
that God comes looking for us…That God chooses life
with us… rather than death to us. And calls us to follow him in this…for the salvation of the world.

Let us stand and pray

Jesus, you ate with sinners.
Why did you tell us these long parables
ending with the Prodigal son?
Is that what
you are? A Prodigal, wasting your life on  us…hungry sinners?
is this about
a prodigal
lavishing compassion?
At the
first sight of our return, even
though we are a
long way off,
he runs to meet us, hugs us, kisses us,
and kills the best calf to have a
feast for us?
Prodigal Son, Prodigal Father and Prodigal Holy Spirit,
we are
filled with awe and wonder at the love you squander… on us.[iii]

[ii] Luke 13:1-5
[iii] thanks for Robin Lane for this prayer from the St Louis Liturgy Group